Harmon Killebrew recently, wisely, decided to spend his last few days hitting pain out of the park. He threw out misery. He cut down suffering on the base paths. And he trotted home as he had lived his life, in dignity and peace.
He said No to the toxic chemicals that could wither his body and mind, and No to being burned and blasted by radiation.
In rejecting these treatments, which are often called “heroic” in medical circles, this truly heroic man deserved more from the news and sports media than to be described as having “given up his fight” against cancer.
Choosing Hospice is both a brave and positive choice, allowing you to say goodbye to your friends and family while you still have your faculties, and then to go on to your next adventure.
Did Harmon Killebrew seem like a quitter to you? If not, then why did so many of us turn him into one in our stories? (Answer: Because it was quick and easy. The media all too often describe those who choose Hospice as “giving up a fight.” And especially with sports figures who are boxers or other kinds of martial artists, it’s just too hard to resist referring to a person diagnosed with cancer as being in – all together now – “the fight of his life.”)
Let’s use better metaphors when people choose to spend their last days in dignity. Can we gracefully “bow out of the dance with cancer” instead of “giving up” against it? Can we “slam the door on” painful treatments, instead of “surrendering” to them? There are as many great alternative metaphors as there are human attributes and careers.
We in the media also persist in referring to those with cancer as now fighting a “brave battle.” Take another look: What are they doing that makes you think they’re brave? Does being diagnosed with a horrible illness automatically make us all brave? And what, exactly, would a “cowardly battle” consist of?
When I’ve reached the last chapter of my own story, I hope to gather friends and family around me. Like a kid at the summer swimming hole, I hope to grab onto the knotted rope and, with a big grin, yell, “Wheeee! Watch this!” before taking the plunge.
Choosing Hospice care is a great move, available to us all, that checkmates pain at the end-game. There are many fresh and vibrant metaphors for that smart decision.
In writing about people beginning Hospice care, we certainly don’t need to imply that they’re “giving up,” or that they’ve “lost a battle.”
For these kinds of stories, let’s jettison the military imagery. It’s inaccurate, unimaginative, and insulting to our subjects and their families.
What do you say?